High-Pressure, Part I: The Western Steamboat

The next act of the steamboat lay in the west, on the waters of the Mississippi basin. The settler population of this vast region—Mark Twain wrote that “the area of its drainage-basin is as great as the combined areas of England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Turkey”—was already growing rapidly… Continue reading High-Pressure, Part I: The Western Steamboat

The Steamboat Inventors: The Second Generation

Robert Livingston’s First Partnership It would take a further twenty years after the deaths of Fitch and Rumsey before steamboat travel was established on a permanent basis in the U.S. Several more would-be steamboat inventors came and went before a partnership between two men drove the development of the steamboat to its successful conclusion. The… Continue reading The Steamboat Inventors: The Second Generation

James Watt, Instrument Maker

[Part of a series: The Age of Steam] A New Synthesis In the eighteenth century, new lines of communication and new alliances were forming between the world of the artisan and craftsman on the one hand, and the world of the “schoolmen,” the university scholars, steeped in abstract knowledge, on the other. This convergence arguably… Continue reading James Watt, Instrument Maker

The Triumvirate: Coal, Iron, and Steam

[Part of a series: The Age of Steam] The steam engine might have amounted to relatively little if not for its two compatriots, coal and iron. Together they formed a kind of triumvirate, ruling over an industrial empire. Or perhaps an ecological metaphor is more appropriate – a symbiosis among three species, each nourishing one… Continue reading The Triumvirate: Coal, Iron, and Steam